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Worldliness-Without-World,
Homelessness-as-Home:
Toward a Definition of the Specular
Border Intellectual
Abdul R.JanMohamed

'"

[Because Conrad] had an extraordinarily persistent residual sense of his


own exilic marginality, he instinctively protected his vision with the
aesthetic restraint of someone who stood forever at the very juncture
of this [i.e., the colonial] world with another, always unspecified but different, one.l
How did exile become converted from a challenge or a risk, or even
from an active impingement on his [Auerbach's] European selfhood,
into a positive mission, whose success would be a cultural act of great
importance?
SC, pp. 6-7

I
What "cannot be said" in Beginnings, without making the production of
the book impossible, is just those latent aporias about the self and its
intentions, about history, and about beginnings, out of which the book
constantly goes on producing itself, like a mushroom out of its mycelium. Beginnings constantly recognizes these contradictions, without
quite recognizing them, in passages which are like slips of the tongue"
or the pen ... 2
Source: Michael Sprinker (ed.), Edward Said: A Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 199~

vative body of criticism. Among all the productive aporias that could be located in Said's work, this essay will be confined to that which surrounds the
l!selfand its intentions," the self to be understood not as the individual, Edward
.w. Said, but as the authorial subject-position implicit in Said's work, a posi.tion I shall categorize as that of "the specular border intellectual"
While this paper will not fully elaborate a typology of border intellectuals,
may be useful to distinguish at the outset between the specular border intellectua4 the focus here, and the syncretic border intellectua4 to be explored in detail
telsewhere. Said describes the awareness of intellectuals situated on cultural
,]borders as "contrapuntal." This musical metaphor, while aptly defining a struc~.'tural symmetry and tension that characterize the border intellectual's subject
'.position, tends to obscure the border intellectual's agency as well as the orientation of his or her intentionality toward the two cultures. While both syncretic
'; and specular border intellectuals find themselves located between two (or more)
'sgroups or cultures, with which they are more or less familiar, one can draw a
I distinction between them based on the intentionality of their intellectual orienta~>tion(as opposed to a categorical epistemic differentiation).
Pi The syncretic intellectual, more "at home" in both cultures than his or her
~~ecular counterpart, is able to combine elements of the two cultures in order
,~toarticulate new syncretic forms and experiences. An apposite example of
~such syncretic intellectuals can be found in Third World artists such as Wole
~Boyinka, whose plays often combine Greek tragedy with Yoruba mythology,
l;orSalman Rushdie, whose "English" novels are often articulated in Urdu syn" ' or Chinua Achebe, whose "English" fiction is structured by Igbo oral nar~l'll.tivepatterns, and so forth. Anton Shammas's novel Arabesques, written in
ebrew by a Christian Arab, brilliantly problematizes the positionality of
)ecular and syncretic intellectuals.3
iiIt; By contrast, the specular border intellectual, while perhaps equally farnil~ar with two cultures, finds himself or herself unable or unwilling to be "at
'home" in these societies. Caught between several cultures or groups, none of
~hich are deemed sufficiently enabling or productive, the specular intellec," subjects the cultures to analytic scrutiny rather than combining them; he
,Ji.sheutilizes his or her interstitial cultural space as a vantage point from which
"define, implicitly or explicitly, other, utopian possibilities of group forma,noIntellectuals like Edward W. Said, W. E. B. DuBois, Richard Wright, and
bra Neale Hurston occupy the specular site, each in a distinctive way.

II
~!

.~hapsthe best place to begin an exploration of Said as a specular border


llectual is with his statements on exile. With his usual insight and eloquence,

'Ij
!,~:i,

l'Ill

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Said reminds us in his essay, "The Mind ofWmter: Reflections on Life in Exile"
(MW, pp. 49-55), that we should not romanticize the exile's predicament; that
we must avoid a redemptive, i.e., a primarily religious, view of exile; that the
"interplay between nationalism and exile is like Hegel's dialectic of servant
and master," wherein opposites inform and constitute each other; and, finally,
that we must not allow the aura of isolation and spirituality surrounding exile
to displace our awareness of "refugees" who are often politically disenfranchised groups of innocent and bewildered people. Those who are exiles, he
argues, know "that in a secular and contingent world, homes are always provisional. Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar
territory, can also become prisons, and are often defended beyond reason or
necessity. Exiles cross borders, break barriers of thought and experience" (MW,
p. 54). While this is surely true, the exile's marmer of border-crossing can be
usefully distinguished from those of the immigrant, the colonialist, the scholar,
etc. The salient question is how, precisely, do exiles cross borders; what are
their intentions and goals in crossing borders, and how do these in turn affect
the kinds of barriers they are inclined to break?
Said's conc.ern with exile manifests itself, among other instances, in his preoccupation with intellectuals who cross borders in various ways: most notably T. E. Lawrence,Joseph Conrad, Eric Auerbach, and Louis Massignon. The
last two clearly occupy privileged, albeit distinct, positi0lllllll1nSaid's canon of
border intellectuals, and I shall be scrutinizing Said's treatment of both. But it
must be noted in passing, as both the epigraphs to this essay indicate, that
Said's fascination with all these individuals is in some sense specular. Like
Conrad, these intellectuals are located at the juncture of the world that formed
them, and, like Auerbach, they transform their border-crossing into positive
missions that lead to significant cultural acts. Said's relation to them is specular
because, from his very different location on the same border between European and non-European cultures, he faces these Western intellectuals across
that border, so to speak, and crosses over into the West only to re-cross the
border with them in order to map the politics of their forays into other cultures. Thus Said's commentaries on these individuals constitute a series of

.the culture that formed him and to ask whether that allegiance is modified
~ significantly by the influence of an alien culture. If such were the case, then one
~.could characterize the transformation as "agonizing," since it would call the very
~..formation of the intellectual into question. If not, then the distance is sufficiently
enabling rather than agonizingly debilitating. Auerbach seems inclined to see it
t as enabling: "The most priceless and indispensable part of a philologist's heritage is still his own nation's culture and heritage. Only when he is first separated
from this heritage, however, and then transcends it does it become truly effec~.tive" (cited in SC, p. 7). The ambiguity and slippage in Auerbach's use of "her~;itage"- a slippage from a professional, methodological inheritance to a national
patrimony, which after being "transcended" returns in a more effective guise
because it is now simultaneously professional and cultural, the latter having been
subsumed by the former - emphasize that an enabling distance leads ultimately
fto a more profound suture between the subject and the culture that formed her
For him. And this, it seems to me, is the central issue in defining exile: how that
particular mode of crossing a border elucidates the politics of cultural construction of subjects and how the latter can begin to break free from their indigenous
fJormation by crossing borders.
Said's specular appropriation of Auerbach for defining the value of exile
,seems to overlook some fundamental differences between the two men. While
~Auerbach writes about and for Western cultures, Said does not write princi~pal1yfor or about Middle Eastern cultures; he writes in the main for and about
'iJheWest. Even The Qyestion of Palestine is addressed, at least in part, as Said
;explicitly acknowledges, to a Euro-American audience. Thus, while Auerbach
~ an exile in the weak sense, that is, a subject who always belongs to his home
(tmiture in spite of, indeed because of, a circumstantial and temporary aliena'on, Said, who is neither quite an exile nor quite an immigrant, is able to deelop, out of his more complicated border status, an enabling theory of "exile"
an "ascetic ode of willedhomelessness" (SC, p. 7, emphasis added). Howwer, the discomfort caused by this complicated status inhibits a systematic
d clear articulation of the code, which remains embedded in the ambigui~esand aporias of Said's entire oeuvre.

specular crossing and recrossing of cultural \lorders.


Yet Said's appropriations and rearticulations of these intellectuals are often
ambiguous about positionality and borders, a characteristic best exemplified by
his treatment of Auerbach. In discussing the instrumentality of Auerbach's exile
in the production of Mimesis, Said ascribes the "existence [of the book] to the
very fact of Oriental, non-Occidental exile and homelessness," and the "conditions and circumstances" of the book's existence not to European culture but to
"an agonizing distance from it" (SC, p. 8). While Auerbach's exile is clearly "nonOccidental" in terms of specific location, it seems confusing to characterize it as
"Oriental" exile, since there is no evidence that Auerbach's views were modified
by any aspect of "Oriental" cultures: the book could have been written in any
other part of the non-Occidental world without significant difference. I am teas"
ing semantics here in order to ascertain the nature of Auerbach's allegiance to

, Said's ambivalence toward defining the nature of border-crossings is most


atically revealed in his article on "Traveling Theory," the influence of
ich is amply illustrated by the special issue of Inscriptions devoted to this
'flpic.4Said's essay, designed to demonstrate how ideas and theories are trans~l'l11edwhen they cross borders, provocatively diagnoses the nature and the
.gers of transformations that have taken place either in mutations of a given
e:;eoreticalposition or between concrete historical analysis and general theory
~lated to that analysis; however, his argument about the causes of these trans.' ations remains vague. Hence, the essay offers an apposite instance of the
bined insight and blindness that characterizes Said's thinking about borIr-crossings.

Il

~/ After a rather general reference to ideas moving from West to East (and
~ce versa) in the nineteenth century, Said focuses on the transformation of

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Georg Lukacs' theory of reification as it is later taken up by Lucien Goldmann


and turned into the theory of "homologies." This transmutation of a complex
theory into a vague, formulaic metaphor is rightly characterized by Said as a
"degradation." Yet he seems unwilling to consider the possibility that this
change may be produced by the failure of individual understanding or imagination; instead, he argues, it is "just that the situation has changed sufficiently
for the degradation to have occurred." One waits to see what specific modifications in the situation are responsible for this, what kind of border has in fact
been crossed, what are the sociopolitical differences between the two loca"
tions that can bring about such changes. Perhaps because he senses the reader's expectations, Said insists several times that relocation in itrelfprecipitates
the transformation. The tension caused by the contradiction between the insistence that change in location produces transformations and the refusal to
specify the nature of that cause reaches its climax in the following statement:
In measuring Lukacs and Goldmann against each other, then, we are
also recognizing the extent to which theory is a response to a specific
social and historical situation of which an intellectual occasion is a part.
Thus what is insurrectionary consciousness in one instance becomes
tragic vision in another, for reasons that are elucidated when the situations in Budapest and Paris are seriously compared. o not wish to suggest that Budapest and Paris determined the kinds of theories produced
by Luklics and Goldmann. I do mean that "Budapest" and "Paris" are
irreducibly first conditions, and they provide limits and apply pressures
to which each writer, given his own gifts, predilections, and interests,
responds. (IT, p. 237).
One is no closer to understanding what kind of border has been crossed and
how that might have contributed to the change. Said's equivocation about the
relations between a subject and the determining socio-political situation has
reached an infinitely periphrastic refusal to come to terms with the issue.
By the time he moves to Raymond Williams's meditation on Lukacs' and
Goldmann's ideas, the problem of crossiBg cultural borders has been displaced
by epistemological questions. When Said turns to Michel Foucault, the last
theoretician considered in the essay, his concern has shifted to the discrepancy between the value of Foucault's detailed historical work and the weakc
nesses in his theoretical pronouncements about power/knowledge. By the end\
"travel" has become a general metaphor covering a series of diverse theoretical transformations, but the effects of crossing borders have not been illumii
nated. Said has a strong awareness of situations and borders, yet he declines
to specify the precise causes and effects of such crossings. Instead, he produces
criticism that emanates from and reflects the difficult predicament of border::
intellectuals in two ways: first, his criticism is a "reflection," an indirect medi":i
tation, on the predicament; and, second, it occupies a specular position in re-l
lation to Western culture .

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III
Before proceeding to examine further Said's meditations on the nature ofbordel'S and the relation of these meditations to his own location, a few clarifications about different modes of border-crOSSing may be useful. A systematic
scrutiny must avoid a metaphoric use of the term "exile," which tends to be
shrouded in the emotionally-charged connotations of the exile's plight. One
can schematically identify four different modes of border-crossings: those used
by the exile, the immigrant, the colonialist, and the scholar, the last typified
by the anthropologist studying other cultures (one might add the tourist and
the traveler as subcategories of the scholar/anthropologist). While both the
exile and the immigrant cross the border between one social or national group
and another, the exile's stance toward the new host culture is negative, the
immigrant's positive. That is, the notion of exile always emphasizes the absence of "home," of the cultural matrix that formed the individual subject;
hence, it implies an involuntary or enforced rupture between the collective
subject of the original culture and the individual subject. The nostalgia associated with exile (a nostalgia that is structural rather than idiosyncratic) often
makes the individual indifferent to the values and characteristics of the host
culture; the exile chooses, if indeed s/he has any choice, to live in a context
that is least inhospitable, most like "home." The immigrant, on the other hand,
is not troubled by structural nostalgia because his or her status implies a
purposive directedness toward the host culture, which has been deliberately
chosen as the new home, Most importantly, hi~or her status implies a voluntary desire to become a full-fledged subject of the new society. Thus the immigrant is often eager to discard with deliberate speed the formative influences
of his or her own culture and to take on the values of the new culture; indeed,
his or her success as an immigrant depends on what Said calls "uncritical gregariousness," that is, on an ability to identify rapidly and to merge with the
structure of the new culture's collective subjectivity.5
Unlike the exile and the immigrant, for both of whom the problematic
1 consists in a rupture between and a re-suturing of individual and collective
t subjectivities, the colonialist and the anthropologist, who also cross cultural
; borders, are not troubled by this problem.6 Colonial and anthropological
l.projects are both characterized by a deliberate denial and often an explicit,
finilitant repression of the individual's desire to become a subject of the host
oulture. Both must apprehend the new culture, not as a field of subjectivity,
tbut rather as an object of and for their gaze. For the colonialist the new culfture becomes an object of his military, administrative, and economic skills,
rwJrich, according to colonial theory and practice, remain objective and untcontarninated so long as the administrator is prevented from "going native,"
ti.e., from becoming a subject of the new culture? For the anthropologist the
situation is, of course, more complicated. While he or she is professionally
~obliged to "master" the language and culture of the host society, all aspects of
..his or her individual subjectivity - the fundamental epistemological structures
i.

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of professional work or career, fundamental values and beliefs, even bodily


well-being - remain under the discursive control of the home culture. The
anthropologist, too, cannot afford to "go native," for to do so would mean the
loss of an "objectivity" essential to professional status.8 For both the colonialist
and the traditional anthropologist, the host culture ultimately remains an object of attention: the gaze of the former is military, administrative, and economic; that of the latter is epistemological and organizational. Both gazes, quite
unlike the perspectives of the exile and the immigrant, are panoptic and thus
dominating.

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modem life. If the exile is neither going to rush into an uncritical gregariousness [like the immigrant] nor sit on the sidelines nursing a wound
[like the exile], he or she must cultivate a scrupulous (not indulgent or
sulky) subjectivity (MW, p. 54).
This formulation leads to two related questions. First, is it possible to cultivate
a subjectivity, especially a "scrupulous" one, without the aid of self-reflection?
And second, what does "scrupulous" mean in this context? Though Said never
provides direct answers to these questions, the scrupulousness that is entailed
in the subject-position of the border intellectual, it seems to me, is everywhere
exemplified in his work.

IV
If we begin to scrutinize Third World intellectuals like Edward Said and American minority intellectuals like Richard Wright, it quickly becomes evident that
while they fit none of my four categories, their subject-positions do share some
characteristics of all but one. Obviously, neither is a colonialist, but in some
sense both are simultaneously exiles and immigrants. Said and Wright are both
descendants of people forced to leave their original cultures, and, like immigrants, both operate more or less effectively in their new culture. However, neither becomes a full-fledged subject of the latter: Said bell@.usehe chooses not to,
because he does not wish to rush into what he calls an "uncritical gregariousness"; Wright because racism would not permit blacks ~ become full members
of white American culture. Somewhat like anthropologists, both are quasi-subjects who participate in the new culture yet stand on its border; however, unlike
the anthropologist, neither is a full participant in any other culture. Both are
subjects in a dominant culture, yet marginal to it Hence, both are confined to
the predicament of border intellectuals, neither motivated by nostalgia for some
lost or abandoned culture nor at home in this or any other culture.
This predicament of the border intellectual must be carefully defined. How
can one situate oneself on the border? What kind of space characterizes it? In
theory, and effectively in practice, borders are neither inside nor outside the
territory they define but simply designate the difference between the two. They
are not really spaces at all; as the sites of differences between inferiority and
exteriority, they are points of infinite regression. Thus, intellectuals located
on this site are not, so to speak, "sitting" on the border; rather, they are forced
to constitute themselves as the border, to coalesce around it as a point of infinite
regression. In consciously or unconsciously constituting themselves in this manner, they have to guard themselves against the traps of specularity, for the
border only functions as a mirror, as a site defining the "identity" and "homogeneity" of the group that has constructed it. Said is clearly aware of this para
dox, and its resultant demand, but seems unwilling to unravel it explicitly:
I am speaking of exile, [he says] not as a privileged site for self-reflection but as an alternative to the mass institutions looming over much of

v
Without going into the details of Said's forced migration from Palestine to
Lebanon to Egypt and then eventually to permanent settlement in the US, or
into other aspects of his biography, his work shows how he occupies a subject-position that is neither quite that of an exile nor quite that of an immigrant. As a Palestinian and an advocate of his people's rights and aspirations,
Said, in spite of his Western education, functions as an exile on the borders of
the dominant culture. Thus, even when articulating Palestinian aspiration, as
for instance in The Q,uestion oj Palestine, Said feels obliged to address the West,
whose power greatly determines Palestinian d~stiny.
The Qyestion of Palestine aims, Said says in the preface, to put "before the
American reader a broadly representative Palestinian position ... " (Q]', p. xi).
The power of the US is more explicitly acknowledged when Said comments
that "there is an important place in the question of Palestine for what Jews
and Americans now think and do. It is this place to which my book addresses
itself" (Q]', p. xvi). The politics underlying such an address account for Said's
position as a subject: "Every Palestinian," he says, "has no state as a Palestinian even though he is 'of,' without belonging to, a state in which at present he
resides" (Q]', p. 120). Though this is true of all Palestinians, and, I would add,
of all border intellectuals, the statement defines the political position in cold,
neutral terms; its affective results are exposed when Said permits himself to
speak in a more subjective vein:
My hope is to have made clear the Palestinian interpretation of Palestinian experience, and to have shown the relevance of both to the
contemporary political scene. To explain one's sense of oneself as a Palestinian in this way is to feel embattled. To the West, which is where I
live, to be a Palestinian is in political terms to be an outlaw of sorts, or
at any rate very much an outsider. But that is reality, and I mention it
only as a way of indicating the peculiar loneliness of my undertaking
in this book. (Q]', p. xviii)

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This sense of being an outsider is rearticulated in a different register as the


collective obligation of Palestinians to negotiate constantly a variety of borders in order to define themselves individually and collectively. Hence Said's
striking description of Palestinian reality as "cubistic, all suddenly obtruding
planes jutting out into one or another realm" (Qf, p. 123).
However, Said's subject-position is only partly that of articulator and defender of Palestinian aspirations within the West; he is also an active and important producer of the evolving Palestinian identity. In the absence of an
authoritative history of Palestinians, The Qjlestion of Palestine marks an early
stage in the production of such a history, and, in the absence of an informed,
sympathetic, and serious discussion of the Palestinian "problem" in the West,
the book plays an important role by inserting the question into Western discourse. As Said makes clear, his book is motivated not only by the current
plight of Palestinians, but also by a utopian vision of Palestine, a "nonplace,"
an idea that galvanizes Palestinians everywhere. In relation to this utopian
potential, as in relation to the American audience for whom Said articulates
Palestine, he is a border intellectual, and this just because "Palestine" is a most
unusual "place":
If we think of Palestine as having a function of both a place to return to
and of an entirely new place, a vision partially of a restOllCdpast and of a
novel future, perhaps even of a historical disaster transformed into a
hope for a different future, we will understand the word's meaning better. (Qf, p. 125).
In the context of such a "Palestine" and the US, where he is professionally
located, Said can be seen as at once an "exile" and an "immigrant." He is an
exile from the land of his birth who has become an eminent member of the
American academy but who refuses, unlike most immigrants, what he calls
an "uncritical gregariousness," that is, an anxious desire to become an uncritical subject of the new culture. Yet in relation to "Palestine" he is an exile waiting across the historical, temporal border for the establishment of a utopian
state.9

Thus Said is enmeshed in a complicated border space, which is by no means


the single source of his work but which does leave a singular trace throughout
his writing. Quite often his position, which allows a kind of distance from Western literature and discursive practices, permits Said a specular role - that is,
he is able to provide in his writing a set of mirrors allowing Western cultures
to see their own structures and functions.
Said's most famous book, Orientalism, is just such a specular performance.
It mirrors analytically a Western mode of discursive control that Said
"orientalist": he reveals to Orientalists (those few who are willing to listen)
their own hidden ideological procedures and programs. Orientalism is clearly
not the product of a "traditional" intellectual in GramsCi's sense, that is, of
one who produces the ideology of the dominant class while believing that her

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or his work is neutral and unbiased. In fact, the book is a stringent critique of
the traditional orientalist intellectuals who are blind to their ideological formation. On the other hand, Orientalism is not the product of an "organic" intellectual either, since in producing his deconstruction of "orientalism," Said
does not speak for any particular organic group outside the West; the book is
not in the service of a specific counterhegemonic formation,10 though many
Third World and American minority intellectuals have found it sympathetic.
Orientalism is, instead, the work of a border intellectual: one who is the subject neither of the host culture or the dominant class, as are the immigrant
and the traditional intellectual, respectively, nor of the "home" culture or the
subaltern class, as are the exile and the organic intellectual, respectively. Said's
critique is articulated from the neutrality of the border: Orientalism is deeply
"interested" in unmasking the underlying, organizational structure of the disCOursethat masquerades as truth, but Said is not motivated to offer an alternate positivity, whether in the guise of a truth or a set of alternative group
~interests. "
While the border status of Orientalism is virtually self-evident, that of Said's
earlier book, Beginnings, is more complicated and intriguing. This work is clearly
an important part of the structuralist and poststructuralist debate, a debate that
itscrutinizes in the fifth chapter. However, Beginnings itself implicitly challenges
one to look for the enabling and creative "beginning" contradictions that make
this very book possible.
Said's definition of "beginnings" and "intentionality," the work's key concepts, is circular. "The Beginning," he tells us, "is t/le first step in the intentional
production of meaning' (B, p. 5). By intention, he "mean(sJ an appetite at the
beginning intellectually to do something in a characteristic language - either
consciously or unconsciously, but at any rate in a language that always (or
nearly always) shows signs of the beginning intention in some form and is always engaged purposefully in the production of meaning" (B, p. 12). The term
!fu1tention" also has two other important implications for Said. First, "intention is the link between idiosyncratic view and the communal concern" (B, p.
113); second, it "is a notion that includes everything that later develops out of
iti,no matter how eccentric the development or inconsistent the result" (B, p.
J~);What is implicit in these tautological definitions is made more explicit
~hen Said argues that for "the great modem retlrlnkers," like Marx and Freud,
eginning is a way of grasping the whole project" (B, p. 41). That is to say, a
dy of beginnings implies a scrutiny of the entire project of a given culture
jla given historical period. Since the choice of any given intention, implied
e concept of beginning, involves the rejection or bracketing of other intions, one is obliged to examine the axiology according to which inteniDS are prioritized; hence, one has to study the entire cultural gestalt. Similarly,
intentions must be studied teleolOgically, and if they link the individual and
Uective cultural subjects (I.e., the idiosyncratic view and the communal con), then a thorough scrutiny of beginnings necessarily involves an analysis
economic, political, social, ideological, and psychological relations.

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However, Said explicitly refuses an analysis of the socio-political circumstances of beginnings, and he avoids any sustained comparisons of beginnings
in Western and non-Western cultures. (It would be fascinating, for instance, to
compare, as Said does not, the phenomenology of beginnings in oral-mythic
cultures, on the one hand, with that in chirographic-historical cultures, on the
other.) Said does make a brief reference to the long shadow cast by the Koran on
the development of modem Arabic fiction, which, from the viewpoint of the
authorial subject-position, serves to define the nature of Said's attention. Having
ruled out other cultures, as well as a socio-political examination of beginnings,
Said can confine himself to a scrutiny of the literary, critical, and philosophical
texts of Western high culture. The problem here is not that the field is artifically
demarcated, but that, having limited himself to a field where writers are cone
sciously concerned with the problem of beginnings, Said is then able to under"
take an analysis that, to use his own terms, is neither quite intransitive nor quite
transitive: it is an uneasy, though illuminating and stimulating, mixture.
Transitive and intransitive analyses of beginnings are, Said tells us, "two styles.
of thought, and imagination, one projective and descriptive, the other tautologi-!
cal and endlessly self-mimetic." The former leads to a "beginning with (or for) ,,~
an anticipated end, or at least expected continuity"; the latter "retains for thei
beginning its identity as radical starting point: the intransitive and conceptualJ
aspect, that which has no object but its own constant clarl1iri.ation."Said's work~
is clearly not a systemic and rigorous intransitive analysis similar to those ofl
Hussed and Heidegger. Nor is it quite a transitive one, for its telos is never entirely clear. The intentionality of Said's book, it seems to me, is ambivalently.,
caught between an attempt at a rigorous phenomenological reduction of tht;~
concept and experience of "beginnings," on the one hand, and a non-phenom~ ~
enological, historical survey of the same topic, on the other. In effect, Said ends ,I
up with what one might call a "transitive phenomenology" of "beginnings." .,t
This particular form of analysis is privileged for various reasons. The one'
of greatest interest here stems from the structural position of the exile or im~1
migrant in the new culture. In defining exteriority, Said links it with the feelt
ing of what Lukacs, echoing Novalis, call "transcendental homelessness," whichj'
Said says "is the result of discovering an absolute incompatibility between thei
realm of totality and the realm of personal inferiority, of subjectivity" (B, p~!,
312). This is precisely the incongruity experienced by the exile and, in a less,
problematic manner, by the immigrant. The subjectivity or inferiority of thll!
immigrant or exile is formed and informed by the "totality" of her or his!
"home" culture. When individuals go to a new society, they experience a majo~
gap between the alien culture and the self (in)formed elsewhere: collective an~
individual subjects no longer coincide. The immigrant who wishes to integrat"
himself into this new social structure will be forced to contemplate, first an~
foremost, how and where he must begin. How to enter the host culture ani
where to begin will become a transitive phenomenological problem for him!
For the indigenous subject, who is a part of the prevailing cultural discourse
intentions and beginnings will at best be mundane problems. It is no acciden

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then, that a border intellectual like Said "happens" to produce a massive, scholarly study of beginnings and that this study takes the form of a transitive phenomenology that Said repeatedly classifies as a "meditation" about beginnings,
nor, indeed, that Said "begins" his own scholarly career with a study ofJoseph
Conrad, whose life and work exemplify the challenges and problems of exile
and immigration.
One might reasonably expect a scholarly meditation on beginnings to scrutinize its own beginnings and intentionality, and one might assume that, for it to
be rigorous and hence productive, such an endeavour would ultimately have to
be either intransitive, thereby pushing the beginning of Beginnings to its fundamental epistemological and ontological ground, or specifically transitive, thereby
providing a concrete socio-political and biographical account of the origin and
telos of the task. Said not only avoids each alternative, he also evades biographical reflexivity about his project Instead, he provides us with the most passive
and impersonal account of the book's genesis. In discussing the circumstances
that led to this meditation, Said promises to tell us "why such a study proposed
itself to its author, why it is pursued in this way in particular, and how a ration'ale for such a study is arrived at" (B, p. 5). Further, the argument of the book is
based on "what the subject of 'beginning' authorkts" (B, pp. 16-17). Thus the
agency of the writer is almost totally repressed, and the writing subject is implicitly split between the active scribe and the passive meditator. Indeed, the
m.editating mind turns itself into a reflecting mirror: "constructing the tautology
that says one begins at the beginning depends on the ability of both mind and
language to reverse themselves, and thus to move frqrn present to past and back
again, from a complex situation to an anterior simplicity and back again, or from
one point to another as if in a circle" (B, pp. 29-30).
The mind not only becomes a reflecting surface, but also adopts a paradOxically passive form of volition - it elects to be passive: "The form of writing I chose," Said says, "was the meditative essay - first, because I believed
myself to be trying for a form of unity as I write; and second, because I want to
,1Jetbeginnings generate in my mind the type of relationships and figures most suitable to
.therri' (B, p. 16, emphasis added). The meditating mind becomes a (relatively
igenial) host to the problematic of beginnings revealed in the canonical litera~thre of the (relatively genial) host culture.
\,liitlThat specular meditation produces a transitive phenomenology of beginnings
that is not particularly goal-oriented. Unlike the immigrant, whose life and well;tbeing depend on a concrete transitive comprehension of the host culture's in~;fentionalities,on his or her mastery of where and how to begin in this new milieu,
~Said,precisely because he is not motivated by the desire to become a full, un~cmticalsubject, can embark on a teleologically "neutral" transitive phenomenol~j\)gyof beginnings in Western societies. In so doing he once again constructs an
fllnalyticmirror that reflects and refracts the structures of the host culture.
I. These considerations of the authorial subject-position manifested in Beginjliiings lead to several conclusions. The first is an aporia that I will take up again
"",discussing Said's method. As Hayden White has noted, one of the cures that

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Beginnings seems to propose for the contemporary

crisis in Western cultures is


"the revitalization of the will."ll Yet in Said's account of the origins of Beginnings, the authorial will seems to be subordinated drastically to the "authority"
of (others') beginnings, to the object of contemplation. (Said thereby raises, but
does not pursue, the question of the extent to which and in what manner the
meditating mind is active, as he later insists it is.) The aporia, however, revolves
around the relation between the quieting of the authorial will and the advocacy,
direct or indirect, of a revitalized will. It is the very same aporia Said subsequently explores in Louis Massignon's study of Islamic religious mysticism.
Of more immediate interest is the fact that, via his transitive phenomenology, Said has produced a new methodological emphasis. The procedure of
Beginnings implies that phenomenological investigation need not be torn between the polar opposites of pure, idealist meditations or starkly materialist
studies of worldly determinations. His transitive phenomenology points towards the possibility of a "political phenomenology," analogous to Alfred
Schutz's social phenomenology, a procedure devoted to mapping the dynamic
structures of the intentionality and teleology of power and of relations of domination, a typology of these structures from their macroscopic - the politics of
group and cultural formations - to their microscopic manifestations - the politics of discursive constructions of "individual" subjects.
Finally, the procedure of Beginnings sheds interesting 1t on the relations
among the apparently discrete works within Said's critical corpus. As]. Hillis
Miller observes,
[tJhere is, in both Said and his work, that discontinuity which is one of
the central themes of Beginnings: the difficult concept of production or
assemblage which is not disorder or heterogeneity, and yet not assimilable to the familiar models of order - organic unity, dialectical progression, or genealogical series - in which origin fathers forth a sequence
leading without break to some foreordained end. 12
This "discontinuity" is informed, if not produced, by the position of the bot.
der intellectual and the very concern with begi1;)nings. Each of Said's major
works begins anew, striking out in a different direction from the previous stude "
ies; each opens up novel fields and provides different angles of vision. Hisi .
work as a whole can be described, to borrow his own metaphor about Pales. 'i
tinian experience, as "cubistic." The cement holding the different planes and<~
fields together is the fundamental procedures and attitudes of his never ex"i
plicitly articulated method.

VI
Hayden White has perspicuously described the core of Said's method. Begin"I~
nings, he argues, does not "authorize" either the logic of identity and contradictiort:4

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("the hypotactical principles of subordination and reductive inclusion") or the


principle of analogy ("the paratactical principle of similitude or resemblance").
Said's method, rather, is based on "notions of adjacency, complementarity,
discontinuity - in other words, contiguity, which serves as both an ontological
principle and a method of exposition. In Said's world-view, things exist sidebY-Sidewith one another, not in hierarchies of relative reality or ordered series
of dynastically related groups. But the principle of contiguity here embraced
is not a mechanisticone."13
Examples of this method can be found throughout Said's work. "Intellectuals in the Post-Colonial World" provides a striking instance;
The comparative or, better, the contrapuntal perspective then proposes
itself and with it, Ernst Bloch's notion of non-synchronous experience.
That is we must be able to think through and interpret together discrepant experiences, each with its particular agendas and pace of development, its own formations, its own natural coherence and its system
of external relationships. (IPW, p. 56)
rrhis is followed by a fascinating comparison between Fournier's Description de
both of which date from the
l'Egypte and Abd al Rahman alJabarti'sJourna~
:1820s, and by a sketch for an analysis of other texts that follow each of these
writers on either side of the divide. The language of Said's articulation - "contrapuntal," "non-synchronous," "discrepant," etc. - stresses separation rather
than continuity, implicitly emphasizing the interpreting will of the critic who
compares the two sides. Such a method, while obviously productive in Said's
hands, raises questions about the nature of the critical will and Said's subsequent deep valorization of the term "criticism." To use this method productively, a critic must attain a certain "neutrality"; he or she must transcend those
deep ideological allegiances to "group," "nation," "race," "gender," or "class"
that lead to the manichean valorization of one side and reciprocal devaluation of the other that Orientalism and a variety of feminist texts have criticized
their respective fields. The critic, in short, must be able to transcend the
Ideological boundaries that are imposed upon him or her by "home."
"Secular Criticism" takes up the discussion of "home" in terms of its binary opposite, "homelessness." These definitions ultimately remain metaphoric
tind generate an ambiguous proliferation of meanings. Thus, "home" comes
ftt> be associated with "culture" as an environment, process, and hegemony
) \that determine individuals through complicated mechanisms. Culture is profltluctive of the necessary sense of belonging, of "home"; it attempts to suture,
~,in:as complete a manner as possible, collective and individual subjectivity. But
'[l(lUltureis also divisive, producing boundaries that distinguish the collectivity
t~d what lies outside it and define hierarchic organizations within the collec~~tivity."Homelessness," on the other hand, is first defined negatively via Mat!;,4hewArnold as the opposite of "home"; "anarchy, the culturally disfranchised,
~ltI1oseelements opposed to culture and State." More positively, "homelessness"

11

j:
1,1

II
II:

Iii

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as an enabling concept is associated, via Raymond Williams's rearticulation


of Gramsci, with the civil and political space that hegemony cannot suture, a
space in which "alternative acts and alternative intentions which are not yet
articulated as a social institution or even project" can survive. "Homelessness,"
then, is a situation wherein utopian potentiality can endure.
"Criticism," which denotes an oppositional socio-political attitude as well
as a method and procedure in this essay, can be seen to emanate from this
space of "homelessness." Said, it seems, is deliberately employing and redefining "criticism", an over-determined, emotionally charged term already overused in literary and cultural studies, in order to shock critics into re-examining
their practices and assumptions and into abandoning their "home," that is,
the ideological attitudes constraining a freer, more "neutral" pursuit of knowledge. Yet precisely in this forceful attempt to redirect our use of that term,
"Secular Criticism" produces a certain ambiguity: "In its suspicion of totalizing
concepts, in its discontent with reified objects, in its impatience with guilds,
special interests, imperialized fiefdoms, and orthodox habits of mind, criticism
is most itself and, if the paradox can be tolerated, most unlike itself at the
moment it starts turning into organized dogma" (SC, p. 29). In this paradoxical formulation, criticism functions to define that which is simultaneously to
be affirmed and denied. The same effect is produced by statements like the
following: " ... contemporary criticism is an institution f~ublicly
affirming
the values of ours, that is, European, dominant elite culture ... " (SC, p. 25);
"Criticism in short is always situated, skeptical, secular, reflectively open to its
own failings" (SC, p. 26). Such contradictions not only lead to the kind of debate
on Said's work, essentially over terminology, that took place in Diacritics;14
they also draw our attention away from a clarification of "homelessness" that
is crucial to Said's privileging of "criticism."
"Secular Criticism" hints at two crucial aspects of this border space that Said
calls "homelessness." The first concerns the critic's location. After noting that
intellectuals can collaborate with as well as oppose a dominant order, Said re"
marks: "All this, then, shows us the individual consciousness placed at a sensitive nodal point, and it is this consciousness at that critical point which this book
attempts to explore in the form of what I call CTitifisrri' (SC, p. 15). "Criticism"
here designates the distance, made possible by self-reflexivity, between a given
hegemonic order and the individual critic. The "sensitive nodal point," then, in
effect defines the location of the border intellectual, as Said's fascination with
various individuals who cross borders indicates. The second concerns the nature of criticism itself: "For in the main - and here I shall be explicit -criticism
must think of itself as life-enhancing and constitutively opposed to every form
of tyranny, domination and abuse; its social goals are non-coercive knowledge
produced in the interest of human freedom" (SC, p. 29). The nature of this criticism will of course depend on how one defines "human freedom," about which
there will surely be much disagreement What seems beyond dispute, however,
is the valorization of "non-coercive knowledge." "Secular' Criticism," in keeping with its introductory function in the anthology, does not further articulate

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either the location of the border intellectual or the nature of non-coercive knowledge. That task is left to Said's commentary on Massignon.
Although Said's essay, "Islam, Philology, and French Culture: Renan and
Massignon," sets out to demonstrate that humanistic fields, based not on criticism or discipline but on cultural prestige, are incapable of self-criticism, one
is struck less by this purpose than by Said's warmth, generosity, and respect
for Massignon; and one soon discovers beneath these sentiments an even finer
appreciation of Massignon's method and style. Massignon's "epistemological
attitude" toward the Arab cultures he studied, characterized by Said as one of
"sympathetic assumption and rapprochement," is ultimately responsible for
his method. In Massignon's work, Said explains,
the problem of language and of the philological vocation are considered within a spatial perspective, as aspects of a topography of distances,
of geographical differentiation, of spirits of place separated from each
other by a territory whose function for the scholar is that it must be
charted as exactly as possible, and then in one way or another overcome. (IPFC, p. 284)
The imperative to chart cultural differences with exactitude in order to overcome them begins to define non-coercive knowledge. Clearly, Said values both
Massignon's refusal to subordinate Islam and Arab cultures to Christianity and
European cultures and the resultant analysis that is non-manichean, non-agonistic, and non-polemical. In Said's view, Massignon goes well beyond freeing himself from the negative, confining ideology of European superiority that
is typical of orientalist thinking. He even seems to have based his method on
a certain dialectical notion of relation between self and other in Arabic grammar and rhetoric:
For language is both a "pilgrimage" and a "spiritual displacement," since
we only elaborate language in order to be able to go out from ourselves
toward another, and also to evoke with this other an absent One, the
third person, al-Gha'ib, as He is called by Arab grammarians. And we
do this so as to discover and identify all these entities with each other.
(cited in IPFC, p. 286).
Every aspect of Massignon's endeavour - his epistemology, his view of
[language, his approach to Arab cultures, even his view of the orientalist's vo~Qation- is informed by a "spiritual displacement" that permits him to underl'.~d the Arab in the latter's own terms. This open and generous approach,
\'rimfettered by the powerful ideological forces of his "home" culture, is what I
,aelieve Said has in mind by "non-coercive knowledge." Massignon thus stands
lsasSaid's prime example of an intellectual who manages to overcome the pow'ierful ideological confinements of "home"; his capacity for "spiritual displace~,nent" symbolizes Said's valorization of "homelessness."

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But "homelessness" cannot be achieved without multiple border crossings,


indeed, without a constant, keen awareness of the politics of borders. Such an
awareness permeates Massignon's work and style, which Said characterizes as
discontinuous and abrupt, "as if it wishes constantly to embody distance and
the alternation of presence and absence, the paradox of sympathy and alienation, the motif of inclusion and exclusion, grace and disgrace, apotropaic prayer
and compassionate love" (IPFC, p. 287). Said aptly characterizes this constant
oscillation in spatial terms, that is, not only as co-equivalence but also as repeated border crossings. Massignon, Said implies, was perfectly comfortable
as a subject in his host culture and elsewhere; he was quite "at home" without
having to subordinate himself to the ideological constraints of any particular
national or cultural group. The paradox of "homelessness-as-home" is best
captured by the ambiguity of the following statement: for Massignon, says Said,
the Arabic language "is a closed world with a certain number of stars in it;
entering it, the scholar is both at home and repatriated from his own world"
(IPFC, p. 286). Massignon is "at home" in this tension, in the play between
Arabic and European cultures. Said here transforms the border into "homelessness-as-home" by turning a negative determination, i.e., the status of an
outsider or marginalized border intellectual, into a positive vocation, mining
that site for its political and epistemological wealth.
Bruce Robbins succinctly captures an aspect of this p"adox:
If criticism is not to be subsumed by the interest of the homeland, Said
suggests, it can only be located in dislocation itself, in the always shifting, always empty space "between culture and system." But he also argues that if criticism is not to withdraw into harmless seclusion, it must
accept the taint and constraint of placement in the world - and even,
perhaps, make a home for itself there. Homelessness or worldliness?
Between them there is nothing so satisfying as a choice or a contradiction, but there is a lively project of critical self-discovery. 15
Robbins's characterization is generally accurate, except for the negative connotation that he attaches to worldliness and the potential opposition he perceives between it and homelessness. It seems to me that the opposition between
"secular" and "religious" criticism implies that Said sees a certain kind of worldliness as being free precisely of the "taint and constraint" produced by the :!
attachment of "religious" criticism to the "parochial" interests of particularl
worlds. Worldliness represents in Said's criticism, for example in his analysiS 1
of Massignon, the critic's achieved freedom from loyalty and subordinatian~
to specific ideologies, cultures, systems, worlds. Seen in this way, warldliness~
is not opposed to hamelessness, but is its camplement. "Worldliness-without"~
world" and "homelessness-as-hame" are different formulations privileging the~
same subject pasition: that of the specular barder intellectual ...
H~
Borders, as implied earlier, are articulations of epistemic and sociapoliti,\"
cal differences; indeed, barders are digital punctuatians of analog differences~j

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that is, higWy valorized, stylized, and formulaic punctuations of infinite, continuous, and heteratapic differences that fill a given continuum. In cantrast to
the analog differences, borders, digitalized articulations of differences, introduce categarial gaps in a cantinuum. In a saciapolitical register, barders that
articulate or impose categarial "differences" between graups - demarcated in
terms of "nations," "cultures," "classes," "genders," "races," etc. - tend ta reify
analog relatians inta imaginary identities and oppositions. In the context 'Of
such charged gaps, syncretic border intellectuals are those whose work fills the
gaps - far instance, between two cultures. (I have in mind here particularly
the artistic production of authors such as Soyinka, Rushdie, etc., who bridge
the gaps between different cultures.) By contrast, specular barder intellectuals
produce work that reflects (on) the gaps and that articulates their nature and
structures. Indeed, "worldliness-without-warld/homelessness-as-home,"
the
paradoxical formulation that is embedded in Said's carpus, elucidates the relation between the task and the lacatian of the specular border intellectual.
"Worldliness-without-warld" represents a sophisticated awareness of the politics produced by socio-cultural-classed-gendered locatians, an awareness, however, that does not subjugate itself to that politics. It represents a freedom, or
at least an attempt ta achieve freedam, fram the palitics of imaginary identification and opposition, from conflatian of identity and location, and so on - in
short, from the varied and powerful farms of suturing that are represented by
and instrumental in the construction of "hame." While "warldliness-withoutworld" emphasizes the specular barder intellectual's awareness of his or her
locatian 'Outside the group in question, "homeless)1ess-as-hame" accentuates a
jouissance derived from transitoriness, fram privileging process and relationship
'Over allegiance ta groups or to 'Objects representing reified relationships; it
privileges the pleasure of border-croSSing and transgressian.

VII
The pawer of this formulation informs a large part of Said's work, but he never
explicitly privileges either the "identity" of the border intellectual or the productive site occupied by that intellectual, in part, perhaps, because to do sa
risks essentialism. On the other hand, not to generalize at all, to argue, for
,instance, that there are as many types of border intellectuals as there are indih\1idualssituated 'Onbarders, risks the chaas of infinite monadic specificity. This
#;isnot the place to attempt an encompassing or complete definition 'Of the barder
tellectual that wauld systematically negotiate the twin dangers 'Of essentialand infinite heterogeneity, or to provide a typology of border intellectuals;
'et it may be useful ta essay some general statements about the circumstances
f border intellectuals. Said is obviausly nat the only intellectual wha speaks
om the border. While his work provokes serious thaught about the border
as a site of intellectual work, other individuals, for example, W E. B. DuBois,
Kora Neale Hurstan, or Richard Wright, have alsa written from that subject-

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position and yet articulated it differently because of their various historical,


political, class, and gender determinations. Thus, while the specific foci and
strategies of border intellectuals can vary considerably, the position that they
find themselves in has certain common features.
To the extent that groups - whether organized around culture, nation, class,
gender, or race - tend to define their identities, their "homogeneity," by differentiating themselves from others, and to the extent that the inscription of
difference tends to be valorized in a more or less manichean fashion, border
intellectuals, who are caught between various group formations, are often
forced to internalize the manichean dichotomies. If a group defines itself, as
all groups finally do, as "human" in contrast to others who are classified as
"sub-human," then the intellectual situated on the border of that group, that
is, an intellectual who does not have (or chooses not to utilize) access to another group that will adequately and confidently empower him or her according to its alternate definition of itself as "human," will be torn between his or
her aspiration for "humanity" and the actual socio-historical experience of being
treated as sub-human.
In the case of border intellectuals, the rupture between aspiration or egoideal valorized by the dominant culture and the experience of actual social
devaluation cuts through the very center of subjectivity. This rupture, we must
remember, is not inflicted on an already formed "indivi~"
or subject but is
involved in the very process of formation.16 Thus, not only are images of selfas-human and other-as-sub-human related in a binary opposition, but the very
process of suturing a "homogeneity," which seems crucial to the cultural necessity of the group's "identity," is simultaneously the process of rupturing the
subject on the border: the border subject becomes the site on which a group
defines its identity. Among the many implications of this predicament, I can
only touch on some of the more salient:
**If the border is the site of infinite regression and if the border subject is
the site on which the group defines its identity, then the ruptured body of that
subject becomes the text on which the structure of group identity is written in
inverted form - the in-formation of the group is inscribed on the body of the
border subject. The border intellectual willing to. read his or her own body,
his or her own formation, has ready access to the structures and values of the
group in question as well as to alternate possibilities of individual and collective subject formation.
**If the border subject is a deeply ruptured one, then a contemplation of
how that subject was formed can, given a certain utopian impulse, lead to a
desire to purge all the manichean valences, all the negative inscriptions that
the group projected in its formation. In its most radical instance, such as that
of Richard Wright, such a desire to deconstruct the received, manichean subjectivity becomes a prolonged project, which in turn paradoxically constitutes
the core around which a new subjectivity begins to coalesce. Caught between
a white racist society that would not accept him and a ,black culture that he
repudiated for complex (and ultimately mistaken) reasons, Wright dedicated

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his life to investigating the border space between the two. In his bifurcated
oeuvre, his utopian, communitarian urge is almost totally relegated to his journalistic writing. By contrast, his fiction - which explores different facets of the
question "What quality of will must a Negro possess to live and die with dignity in a country that denied his humanity?" - is dedicated to excavating the
individual subjectivity that has been formed by the struggle between black
and white cultures. Each of Wright's novels successively probes and reveals a
deeper stratum of the political, ideological, and cultural processes of subject
formation on the racial border. In so doing, Wright in effect becomes an archaeologist of the site of his own formation, devoting most of his energies to
deconstructing the black subject's formation, thereby re-forming his (Wright's)
own subjectivity as a writer around the project of excavating the border. In
short, Wright's work constitutes a systematic reading of the border subject's
body.
**The site of the border subject is clearly one mode of what Foucault identifies as "heterotopia," even though he does not have this kind of subjectivity
in mind.17 Utopias and heterotopias are, according to Foucault, the two sites
that "have the curious property of being in relation with all other sites, but in
such a way as to suspect, neutral~, or invert the set of relations that they happen to
designate, mirror, or reflect" (emphasis added). These two sites are linked with
all others, but primarily by a relation of contradiction. Heterotopias, like
boundaries, established "in the very founding of society," are "counter-sites"
in which all the other real sites that can be found within a culture "are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted." .foucault's subsequent elaboi"ation of the specular nature of heterotopias and the principles according to
which they function, while very suggestive for a more extended exploration
of the border intellectual as a heterotopic site, cannot be taken up here. It is
crucial, however, to make one distinction. While Foucault's heterotopic sites
are all social and institutional spaces - cemeteries, fairs, libraries, prisons, etc.
"T the border intellectual, as I have defined that concept, is simultaneously
a
~space" and a subject, is, indeed, a subject-as-space. Unlike Foucault's sites,
which are inherently heterotopic, the transformation of the border subject, who
is always constituted as a potential heterotopic site, into an actual heterotopic,
specular border intellectual depends upon his or her own agency: only by
directly or indirectly reading himself or herself as a heterotopic border constructed as such by society can the intellectual articulate his or her specular
potentiality. In their own very different ways, both Said and Wright investigate this shifting site.
**If a constructive appropriation of the heterotopic site by the border in: .,tellectualdepends on articulations of specularity, then one must guard against
[the varied traps of auto-affection, the most important of which is a disguised,
~'ifnot open, desire for an "authentic identity," a self-presence that is somehow
i,thought to lie beyond the politics of specularity. The self-reflection of the bor!):ler intellectual privileges less a transitive search for what Said calls "origins"
IAhan an intransitive hermeneutics of socio-cultural structuration, a political

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phenomenology attentive to the rhetorical construction of all discursive formations and subject-positions.
**In many ways the specular border intellectual is homologous with what
Donna Haraway has defined as the "Cyborg." "There is no drive in cyborgs
to produce total theory," she argues, "but there is an intimate experience of
boundaries, their constructions and deconstructions"; "Cyborg imagery can
suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our
bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language,
but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia. "18Said's valorization of "affiliation" over
"filiation" can be read as form of "infidel heteroglossia." While the life ofJoseph
Conrad (with whose border crossings Said "begins" his professional career)
also exemplifies a certain type ofheteroglossia, Conrad's discomfort with and
desire to overcome the dilemma of the border intellectual is marked by a dual
desire: to belong to a select group, to become an insider - "one of us" - as
Marlow puts it in LordJim and to value "fidelity" above all else. Unlike Conrad
and like the Cyborg, the border intellectual must affirm the value of infidelity
to cultures, nations, groups, institutions, etc., to the extent that these are defined in monologic, essentialist terms.
**For border intellectuals in the academy the political phenomenology
founded on their positionality necessarily leads to two major consequences,
both easily visible today. First, to what Aronowitz and ~oux
call "border
pedagogy," which urges students to scrutinize knowledge from the position of
"border-crossers, as people moving in and out of borders constructed around
coordinates of difference and power." This pedagogy encourages students "to
develop a relationship of non-identity with their own subject positions and
the multiple cultural, political, and social codes that constitute established
boundaries of power, dependency; and possibility."19
Second, to the enormous amount of theoretical and archival work, begun
during the 1960s and 70s and currently gathering greater momentum, by femF
nist and minority intellectuals, who have had to function on and against the
borders of a Eurocentric and patriarchal cultural canon. Within this area, a
great deal of criticism on the positionality of feminist and minority intellectu"
als - for instance, by Gayatri Spivak and bell hooks pn minority/"Third World'!
feminist intellectuals, and by Harold Cruse and Cornel West on African-American intellectuals - has explored in diverse ways the power and limitations inherent in the border status of such intellectuals. A recent anthology of essaysj
on Chicano literature and culture, Criticism in the Borderlands, foregrounds mor~J
deliberately the politics of border crossing.20
Yet for minority and feminist intellectuals, the valorization of heterogene-:,
ity and a heterotopic site, of "homelessness, " poses severe problems, for it tends:j
to complicate the demands of and desire for identification and solidarity withl
the group from which the intellectual draws some of her or his power.
**The position of the border subject, complicated and precarious, can gen"!
erate, when appropriately cultivated, as it is by intellectuals like Said anH'f
Wright, a tense productivity that resists stability and the coercive tendencie}

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239

of fixed, indigenous identities. Such an appropriation can transform the predicament of the border intellectual into a fruitful and powerful asset.

Notes
I would like to thank the followingfor commenting on earlier drafts of this essay:Nancy
Armstrong, David Lloyd, Alicia Ostriker, Donna Przybylowicz, Mark Rose, Jochen
~hulte-Sasse, Muhammad Siddiq, Michael Sprinker, and Leonard Tennenhouse; The
Humanities Research Institute at UC, Irvine provided a fellowship that allowed me to
begin the essay; the Literary Criticism conference at Georgetown University afforded
an opportunity to present a part of it as a talk.
1. Edward W. Said, "Intellectuals in the Post-Colonial World," SalTTUJ{5Und~no. 701 (Summer 1986), p. 49. Henceforth, citations from Edward Said's works will be included in the text and abbreviated as follows: B - Beginnings: Intention and Method (New
york: Basic Books, 1979); IPFC - "Islam, Philology, and French Culture," The World,
tJ1.eText, and the Critic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983); IPW - "Intellectualsin the Post-Colonial World"; MW - "The Mind in Winter: Reflections on
We in Exile," Harper's, no. 269 (September 1984); Qf- The Qestion of Palestine (New
York:Times Books, 1979); SC - "Secular Criticism," The World, the 11xt, and the Critic,
"TravellingTheory," The World, the Text, and the Critic.
2. J. Hillis Miller, 'Beginning with a Text," Diacritics, 4, no. 3 (1976), p. 4.
3. Anton Shammas,Arabesques, trans.VivianEden (NewYork:Harper and Row, 1983).
4. See Inscriptions, no. 5 (1989), which is devoted to a consideration of "Traveling
f Theories, Traveling Theorists."
I'
5. Robert A. Burt's book, Two]ewish]ustices: Outcasts in the Promised Land (Berkeley:
i University of California Press, 1988), provides a fascinating study of the manner in
I, which the stances of the exile and the immigrant taken up, respectively, by Justices
f LouisBrandeis and Felix Frankfurter, affected their legal opinions and attitudes and,
\ ip the long run, the Supreme Court itself.According to Burt, Brandeis "found a place
~.fu stand both in and apart from his society. He was neither insider nor outsider. He
tJound a unique place for himself, poised always at the boundary." By contrast, "to be'~R\'lmea full-fledgedAmerican ... Frankfurter had to separate himself from his immi~igrantpast -as it were, by force majeure, by corporal ... punishment" (citations come
rfrpm pp. 13 and 39 respectively).
,I"~ 6. I have in mind here the nineteenth- and twentieth-century European colonialist's
~~lationto Third World colonies, which defined the European as the controller and
administrator. Settler colonialism, of the kind that was practiced in the US, Canada,
K4ustralia,and for a time in Kenya and southern Africa, is significantlydifferent. This
~,lWIerence
is marked precisely by the fact that at a given historical point (Le.,after the
lilJ!l:!ives
are sufficientlysubjugated, if not destroyed) the designation used for Europeans coming to these countries changes from "colonialist" to "immigrant" or "settler."
..~.'7. For an excellent analysis of the appropriating colonialist gaze, see Mary Louise
"Scratches on the Face of the Country; or, What Mr Barrows Saw in the Land of
"~. Bushmen,"in ''Rtu;e,'' Writing, and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
~~~85),pp. 138-62.
~nr8. I have in mind here, of course, a traditional, non-reflexive anthropological prace.James Clifford's analyses of the narrative structures of ethnographic accounts as

rr -

1:

240

INTELLECTUALS

AND

CRITICS:

POSITIONS

AND POLEMICS

WORLDLINESS-

well as what one might characterize, for the sake of brevity, as self-reflexive enthnography have successfully challenged the "objectivist" model. See, for example, Paul
Rabinow, Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977)
and, more recendy, MichaelJackson, Path Toward a Clearing: Radical EmPiricism andEthnographic ITUJuiry (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1989); Kirin Narayan, Storytellers,
Saints, and Scoundrels: Folk Narratives in Hindu Religious Teaching (Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 1989); Ted Swedenburg, "Occupational Hazards: Palestine Ethnography," CulturalAnthropolof!:j, vol. 4, no. 3 (1989), pp. 265-72; Dorinne Kondo, Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourse of Identity in aJapanese Workplace (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1990); Smadar Lavie, The Poetics of Military Occupation: Mztina Allegories
of Bedouin Identity Under Israeli and Egyptian Ru.le (Los Angeles: University of California
Press, 1990); Brackette Williams, Stains on My Name, J#zr in My *ins: Guyana and the Politics of Cultural Struggle (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991).
Of particular relevance here are the meditations on border crossings and "relational knowledge" by Renato Rosaldo in Culture and Truth: The &making of Social Analysis
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), and, in a different register, by Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mesti;:a (San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987).
9. Said's refusal to become an uncritically gregarious member of the US community and his utopian use of "Palestine" find fascinating parallels in (and invite a fuller
comparison to) the stance of Justice Louis Brandeis, which is characterized by Robert
Burt as follows: "The only homeland that Brandeis wholeheartedly embraced was thus
an imaginary place - not America as it was, but only a romanticized Jeffersonian vi-

WORLD,

HOMELESSNESS-

AS- HOME

241

with that of other postcolonial intellectuals, moves, travels, as they say, between first
and third worlds, between cores and peripheries, centers and margins. The theorists in
this book see their texts always "written for" in our local and global borderlands."

sion of(TwoJewishJustices,
a past America, andp. not
it was,vision,
but this
sami"romantic
of a
Zion"
17).Palestine
However, asSaid's
it seeml'to
me, isvision
not really
romantic, as Brandeis' might have been.
10. I am thinking here of various non-Western cultures as potentially counter-hegemonic ones, for none of which Said speaks direcdy. Said is, of course, a specific intellectual in the Foucauldian sense, but then by definition he does not represent others.
11. Hayden White, "Criticism as Cultural Politics," Diacritics, 4, no. 3 (1976), p. 13.
12. Miller, "Beginning with a Text," p. 2.
13. White, "Criticism as Cultural Politics," p. 12.
14. See the exchange between Bruce Robbins and Catherine Gallagher, Diacritics,
13, no. 3 (Fall 1983), pp. 69-77; 15, no. 2 (Summer 1985), pp. 37-43; 16, no. 3 (Fall
1986), pp. 67-72.
15. Bruce Robbins, "Homelessness and Worldliness," Diacritics, 13, no. 3 (Fall 1983),
p.69.
16. The most dramatic and penetrating representation.of this rupture I know of ap'
pears in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, where the young Janie,
the protagonist, is initially unable to recognize her black self in a photograph with other
white children.
17. Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," Diacritics, 16, no. 1 (Spring 1986), pp. 22-7.
18. Donna Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist .~.
Feminism in the 1980s," in Coming to Terms: Feminism, Theory, Politics, ed. Elizabeth Weed
(New York: Roudedge, 1989), p. 204.

19. Stanley Aronowitz and Henry A. Giroux, Postmodern Education: Politics, Culture an1J
Social Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), pp. 199 and 200. I;'
20. Hector Calderon andJose David Saldivar, eds., Criticism in the Borderlands: StudIj
Culture, and Ideolof!:j (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991)'.1
According to the editors, this book is in part "an invitation ... ror readers ... to remap:!
the borderlands of theory and theorists. Our work in the eighties and nineties, alon~l
ies in Chicano Literature,

WITHOUT-